As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
I was a basketball coach for almost 12 years at all levels and as a coach I always reflected after each practice, game, and season how I could be better individually and how I could get my programs better. I think that same principle applies to teaching. After every class, lesson, day, week, year, etc. I am constantly trying to find ways to get better and help my students to be more successful.
There are plenty of high quality teachers that reflect continuously on their practices and make adjustments from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year. But as I continue to wrap my brain around the idea of reflecting, I wonder if it is possible and how it can be possible to have teachers reflect on their own teaching to better serve students. In other words, how does a principal or fellow teacher establish a routine where reflecting on one’s own teaching should be done without it coming across harshly? How do we get colleagues to step outside of their comfort boxes to try new instructional practices where they may have a more substantial impact on student learning? Even though reflecting may be part of my professional routine, it may not be the routine of a few teachers down the hall (just speaking in generalities here, this does not necessarily reflect my own school or work environment).
Students should be at the center of our lessons and units and we should start with them in mind when we create our lessons and units. Education is changing and has changed over the years. It should come as no surprise to any educator. We have the Common Core, new teacher evaluation, and the introduction of more technology into the classroom just to name a few. Myself being in the mix of it all, I feel it is imperative that every educator takes time to reflect on what they are doing in their own classroom and make adjustments. Don’t be afraid to try new lessons, teaching strategies, approaches, technologies, etc. We need to have open minds to how our students learn and constantly think about what we can do to make our students better! They don’t learn the same way they did 20 or even 10 years ago. If we as educators can model for our students that we take the time to reflect, it can help our students to embrace that life skill that can be applied in all situations.